Saracens boss Mark McCall has explained why Billy Vunipola will be the only one of the club’s England players who will squeeze some Trailfinders Cup game time in between the end of the Autumn Nations Cup and the start of the Six Nations. 

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England had Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Elliott Daly, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola involved in the campaign that culminated in the December 6 extra-time Autumn Nations Cup final win over France at Twickenham. 

However, rather than play for Saracens on either of the coming two Saturdays in the Trailfinders Cup against Ealing or Doncaster, Itoje, Farrell, Daly, George and Mako Vunipola will have had a nine-week break in between games when England open their 2021 Six Nations campaign at home to Scotland on February 6. 

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Saracens are this weekend missing eight players who were suspended for breaching the Barbarians’ Covid bubble ahead of their cancelled late October game versus England, opening up the temptation for club director of rugby McCall to give his Eddie Jones’ contingent a hit-out to shake off the winter cobwebs. However, only Billy Vunipola will be involved for Saracens at Vallis Way.    

“In terms of the English internationals, basically all of them are on an individualised pre-season programme to help prepare them for the Six Nations,” said McCall. “In Billy’s case, we all agreed that he is best served playing some game time as part of that individualised pre-season programme. He gets a lot out of playing, so that is why he is playing. 

“It’s unlikely,” added McCall when asked if other Test players might be considered for the round two trip to Doncaster next weekend before they head into England camp at St George’s Park on January 25. “Like I said, they are all on pre-season individual programmes to hit the ground running when it comes to the Scotland match and I don’t think there is a great need for most of them to play game time. Billy is a little different, always has been.”

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While England, who name their Six Nations squad on January 22, will retain only a 28-player squad for the Guinness Six Nations to reduce movement in and out of their team environment, McCall will be busy with his roster in the hope that a three-pronged approach to life in the Championship will pay handsome dividends across his squad.  

“It’s so important (to be back playing),” he said at the end of a layoff that stretches back to October 4 when Saracens last played in the Premiership before their automatic relegation. That break included the confirmation on Friday that assistant Alex Sanderson had left to become Sale director of rugby, with Joe Shaw becoming Saracens head coach and Adam Powell their new defence coach.

“When we looked back to when everything happened, we looked at our squad in different categories. You had a bunch of players who were just below international level who couldn’t really afford to play in the Championship and needed to play at the highest possible level and we loaned those players out. For the most part, their experiences are going really well and we’re looking forward to welcoming them back in the summer. Max Malins, Ben Earl, Nick Isiekwe, Alex Lozowski and Nick Tompkins.

“Then we had the international players. We had various plans. Some of those plans haven’t materialised because of the (pandemic) situation everyone is in but what was central to their year was a quieter season. To freshen up mentally and physically and that is definitely going to happen. 

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“And then we had the other group, younger, more inexperienced players. We wanted to put some time into them but we haven’t had games. The next part of the equation is for them to get as much game time and to accelerate their development as well as we can.”

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